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Clutter Junkie No More
Stepping Up to Recovery
By Barb Rogers
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2007 Barb Rogers
All rights reserved.
Stepping Up to Recovery
We admitted we were powerless over clutter, that our lives had become unmanageable.
Step 1, "We admitted we were powerless over clutter, that our lives had become unmanageable," speaks of several things. The first word, we, tells us we are not alone. We are not crazy. There are others like us. There is a lot of relief in knowing we are not the only one out there living with the problem.
The admission of powerlessness doesn't make us weak. There are many things in life that we are powerless over. When we are physically ill, we turn our power over to doctors. Legal problems compel us to turn our power over to attorneys and judges. Accountants, banks, and financial advisors are empowered by their education to deal with our financial situations. It's wise to turn over our power to those who can help, who can use their knowledge to guide us.
Once the line is crossed into addiction, the choice to clutter or not to clutter is not within your power. Think back to all the things you've done to try to control the clutter addiction. They didn't work because the clutter itself is simply a manifestation of what is happening within you.
How is your life affected by clutter? Perhaps you'd like to have people in, but can't because you don't want them to see your mess. It's difficult to have friends, intimate relationships, if shame keeps you from letting anyone in. Therefore, most of your relationships must be kept on a superficial level. You can tell yourself it's about the clutter in your house, but in reality, it is fear of intimacy, of allowing anyone to know who you really are. The outside clutter is an excuse, a barrier to keep others from getting too close.
Do you have trouble looking at yourself in the mirror? Do you look into your eyes, or focus on hair, skin, teeth, and the shape of your nose? If your eyes meet in the mirror, do you quickly look away and fumble around the numerous bottles around the sink to find that new product you bought last week to take care of those troubling wrinkles? If you understand what I mean, if you've done that, you know what it is not even to be able to have an intimate relationship with yourself. If you look any deeper than your skin, you might not like what you see.
Distractions are the great enabler of the clutter addict. As long as there is always an overwhelming number of things that need done, if importance is put on the outside of the body, the needs of pets, and so many other things, the days will pass, and the problems will be avoided yet again.
What about those days that are passing you by as you scramble toward one distraction after another, always keeping up appearances, protecting yourself from others and the world around you? If you're sitting in your nest, thinking about how overwhelmed you are, do you ever wonder about finding a solution, a new way to live?
There is a solution, and the first step is to understand that you suffer from clutter addiction, and it is making your life unmanageable. You are not inept, stupid, lazy, or all that different from other people. If you attended an anonymous meeting, you would see great similarities between yourself and the others in attendance. Addiction may show itself in different forms, but the feelings are the same. The most common feeling is that of not being good enough, not fitting in. We may tell ourselves our addiction makes us feel better, but the truth is that it sets us apart, feeds our poor self esteem, and makes our world smaller and smaller, until we feel as if we are living in a box.
Admitting we have a problem, and the effect it is having on our life, is like opening the lid to the box. With that one conscious decision, we feel that first ray of sunshine, that warmth, that tells us there is hope.
If you're having trouble deciding whether you are truly a clutter addict, or just a messy person, there's a way to find out. The following questions will reveal the truth if you are willing to answer them with brutal honesty. It's okay to be honest because no one will see them, but you.
Do you awaken filled with anticipation, or dread of the day ahead?
Do past issues continually come up in dreams and thoughts?
Do you feel tired a great deal of the time?
Do you imagine illnesses to explain feeling tired?
Do you obsess over your outward appearance?
Do you have trouble setting reasonable goals and sticking to them?
Do you finish one project before beginning another?
When is the last time you invited someone into your home, a new person into your life?
Do you continually make excuses for your mess, for who you are?
Do you qualify your opinions by prefacing them with explanations and excuses?
Do you compare yourself with what you believe others are?
Do you have trouble accepting compliments?
Is there anyone you trust completely?
Do you volunteer, and do for others, at the expense of your own needs?
Do you replace intimacy with people by loving pets, plants, and things?
Do you have a nest?
How much time is spent in the nest?
Do you watch home improvement and decorating shows, and read magazines, and wish you were able to live like that?
Do you buy impulsively, shop for the sake of shopping?
Do you have trouble making decisions?
Do you keep your finances in order?
Where does your money go?
When a problem arises, do you immediately go to the worst case scenario? Do you know serenity, peace, or is your mind as chaotic as your living space?
These are a few questions that will give you insight into whether you have crossed the line into clutter addiction. After considering them, answer the one ques-tion there is no escape from: Do you feel overwhelmed most of the time?
Life can be fascinating, frustrating, intriguing, even frightening at times. However, the one thing it shouldn't be is overwhelming. As human beings, we have been endowed with all the tools required to deal with life, and whatever it throws at us.
You might be thinking that it is easy for me to say, as I sit in my nice house, writing my little books. But I know overwhelmed. I lived overwhelmed until life became too much to handle. By age thirty, I'd outlived all my children, could not maintain relationships with family, friends, or spouses, had spent time in a mental hospital, and desper-ately sought relief through addictions. I thought I wanted to die.
When push came to shove, I didn't want to die. I just wanted to find a better way to live. That way revealed itself to me in a twelve-step program. I became a part of the "we." Living in the solution, instead of the problem, began with that first step. I had a problem. I was powerless over it. I needed help.
Little did I know, when I took that first step, I would be embarking on a journey to a life I couldn't have even imagined. I thought if it gave me some relief, if I could overcome that overwhelmed feeling, that would be enough. However, it gave me so much more.
Although many years have passed since that first day, my first meeting, it will be a day that stands out in my life forever. Through that beginning, that first glimmer of hope, I emerged from being what many considered as a hopeless case to a happy, productive member of the human race. I belong to the world, and it belongs to me.
If you are sitting in your nest, surrounded by clutter, your mind saying, "I'm overwhelmed," I hope you will think of me, and so many others like me, who have lived through the same struggle and found a way out. It begins with one step, admitting it is a problem, that you need help.
What about these meetings? What do people do there? Do the meetings really help? Why are they anonymous? Can steps for drunks and drug addicts really work for clutter addicts? Is it a religious thing? Where do I find these groups? These are some questions that might go through your mind when considering Clutterers Anonymous.
It may be amazing to think that where doctors, other professionals, clergy have failed, that one drunk helping another worked. These drunks, in recovery, then came up with twelve steps and twelve traditions to help guide them to a better way of life, to recovery from addiction. It spread worldwide. Next came the realization that if these things worked for drunks, they might work for drug addicts, people with eating disorders, gamblers, smokers, and more recently, clutterers.
The twelve-step program is based on the idea that no one can understand the compulsion the addict deals with better than someone who has felt it, known it, lived it, and found a way out. Compulsion is not the same as making a choice. Compulsion is an irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act. In other words, we keep doing it even when we don't want to do it. We don't be-lieve we can stop.
In and of ourselves, we probably can't. But there is a way, and we find this out when we attend a meeting or meet online with others who have the same problem. They have discovered the way out, and are willing to share their experience, strength, and hope. They understand. The situations that brought each of you to the point of seeking help may have been different, but I guarantee the same feelings were involved. You have dealt with the same frustrations, fears, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
How is a meeting run? A group of people, all suffering from the same addiction, gather in a specific place. It can be an office, a coffee shop, a church basement, even a room online. There are discussion meetings in which one person offers up a topic, or problem, they've been having or thinking about, and one by one, others share about going through the same thing, how they got through it, and make suggestions the other person might try.
There are step meetings that concentrate on a different step each week ... and sometimes the traditions, and participants speak of how they came to the step, worked through it, and came out on the other side. These meetings help give clarity to the twelve suggested steps and traditions of the meetings. They also show the newcomer that there are many different ways to work the steps, and that they have a choice of when and how to do what works for them.
There are speaker meetings. At a speaker meeting, one individual gets up and shares their story with the group. I've heard it said that if you stick around long enough, and listen, you will eventually hear your story. In hearing your story, or even parts of it, you come to understand you are not crazy. It really is an addiction, and you are not alone.
Although it is different in certain areas, most meetings begin with the Serenity Prayer and end with the Lord's Prayer, or vice versa. The steps and traditions are read aloud, and the meeting begins. You have a choice to speak or not speak, participate in the prayers, or not. You have a choice in everything you do, or choose not to do. I will say, however, that usually what you get out of a meeting is in direct correlation to what you are willing to put into it.
Over the years, I have seen the difference between those who simply attend meetings and those who have chosen to become a part of the group. Like all other addicts, the clutter addict has a problem with commitment, and this will be a big commitment. A twelve-step program is about changing every facet of your life. Only the first step mentions clutter; the other eleven tells us how to live an uncluttered life.
Anonymity serves several purposes. Some people do not wish the world to know they live the way they do. Others feel shame that they are addicted to anything and have had to ask for help. One of the most important facets of anonymity in a twelve-step meeting is that for that one hour, in that one moment, we are all the same. It doesn't matter if you are a doctor or waitress, whether you live in a mansion or a trailer, what religion, race, or economic level you come from. We are all just Sally, Joe, Betty, John, and we have a common problem.
Since addiction is no respecter of age, race, gender, or profession, addicts come from all walks of life, and from every religion, some with no beliefs at all. There-fore, religion has no place in a twelve-step meeting. We speak of a "God of our understanding," or a "Higher Power," which can be translated into whatever it is we each believe in.
In a meeting, at some point, a basket is passed for a contribution to help pay for coffee, snacks, and rent for the meeting place. Again, you have a choice. There are no dues or fees, but the groups are self-supporting. They do not accept outside money, so that there is no pres-sure on the group to conform to anyone else's ideas of what should be happening.
Does it work? People may fail to work the program, but if worked, the program never fails. I can see no way of implementing the twelve steps and traditions into your life and not coming out better off. The twelve steps and traditions give us direction, a plan of action, take away all our excuses and justifications for self-destructive behavior, and tell us that we have a choice in all things. The people aren't the program, but the support of others like us can make the difference when we need that helping hand to get us through the moment. And, one day, when we become more sound, we become that helping hand that gets another addict through a crisis. And, they will help someone, and they will help someone, and that's how it works.
Get in touch with Clutterers Anonymous by going online to http://www.clutterersanonymous.net to find online meetings or to get a meeting list by region and date.
The Power of Two
Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
Step 2, "Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity," speaks to us not about being insane in the usual sense, but about the insanity of addiction. If you put twenty clutter addicts in a room with other people, you wouldn't be able to pick them out. They wouldn't be falling down drunk, twitching, talking to themselves, wearing tin foil hats, or picking imaginary flowers.
The insanity of addiction can be explained by the three "D's": denial, delusion, and deception. For the clutter addict, they go something like this.
It's not that bad. I could have this all put away, cleaned up, organized, in a couple of days if I just had the time. I don't know how my friend lives the way she does. She must spend all her time cleaning up stuff. I have a life, have things to do, people to see, more important things to think about than a few messes. I will get to it tomorrow, next week, next year, eventually. It's not that bad.
A person who doesn't have an addiction problem doesn't wonder if they do. It never crosses their mind. They don't spend their time searching for excuses, justifications, and rationalizations for their actions or lack of action. It doesn't matter what you are telling the rest of the world. However, what you tell yourself can make all the difference. As long as you can deny clutter is a problem, that it is actually an addiction, you can deny there is a reason for it in your life. The truth is that no matter how long you can use this avoidance technique, it won't make the problem go away. Just because you deny it doesn't mean it's not real.
It's not affecting my life. I have friends. People who really care for me won't care what my house looks like. I don't care what people think anyway. I could live like them if I wanted to. This is just a matter of choices. There is so much going on in my life, I don't have time for unimportant tasks that simply have to be repeated every day to keep up with them. I make up for my clutter by helping others, volunteering at hospice, the library, taking care of my pets, my flowers, baby-sitting the neighbor's kids. I have a full and interesting life. What more could there be?
I call this the "run and hide" technique for avoidance. The clutter addict tends either to run as fast as they can, moving so quickly that no one can catch up with them, pin them down, or have an intimate relationship with them. Or, they hide behind that big wall of clutter, not allowing anyone inside. The few individuals who are allowed into their life spend a great deal of time under scrutiny, always feeling they have to prove their loyalty and that they can be trusted. Even then, it is difficult for the clutter addict to truly trust another person. If a person gets too close, begins to chip away at the wall, panic can set in. It's time to go shopping, find some more stuff to reinforce the wall, to let that person know there are serious boundaries that cannot be crossed. Therefore, relationships are kept on a superficial level, and all the while, clutter addicts tell themselves how deep and wonderful their relationships are.
Somehow, some way, some day, it will all change. I will just wake up one morning, clean up my mess, and I will be like other people. There is no big reason behind all this. I've been busy, tired, distracted, and have probably let it get a bit out of control, but I can fix it. I do need all this stuff. I know what I have, why I bought it, why I'm keeping it. I can do all those things other people can. It's simply a bit more difficult for me. Maybe it's a genetic thing, something my parents taught me, or I'm more sensitive than others. Whatever it is, and I'm sure it's not an addiction, I'm certain I can overcome it and control it. I should be able to control it.
Excerpted from Clutter Junkie No More by Barb Rogers. Copyright © 2007 Barb Rogers. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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